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Jan 9, 2008 06:47 PM

Whetstone sharpening - estimating angle?

Hi everyone,

I took a knife skills class at Sur La Table recently, which included a brief demo of knife sharpening tools and technique (proper angles for German and Japanese knives, etc). I have Wusthof knives at home, and now I'm motivated to learn to keep them sharp myself.

After the class, I bought a whetstone and a set of guides that slip onto the top of the knife to help you maintain the proper angle. Unfortunately, the only guides the store had are for a 15 degree angle, which is for Japanese knives - not the 22.5 degrees I need for my German knives. But I figured the guides would help me eyeball the angle, rather than having nothing at all.

I picked the whetstone over a manual Wusthof pull-through sharpener, because I'd love to learn the technique. I'm kind of anti-gadget, anyway.

But now I'm worried that I'm nuts - is it going to be impossible to eyeball the 22.5 degree angle using a 15 degree guide? Am I going to wreck my knives? Ideally, I'd have bought a 22.5 degree guide, but the store didn't have them and I can't find them anywhere online. And doing it freehand without a guide seems even more risky.

I'm debating returning the whetstone and guides and just buying the pull-through sharpener, so at least I'll know the angle is right.

Any thoughts/advice? I read several other threads, but didn't see this specific question addressed. Thanks!

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  1. I think 22.5 sounds very blunt. I have Japanese and German knives, etc., and I don't think even my thickest, cheapest cleaver has been sharpened to 22.5, at least not with a 50/50 sharpening job.

    1. Fold a piece of paper in half, the angles are 45, 45 and 90, by folding the triangle in half again, along one of the 45 degree angles in half, the angle at the tip of your piece of paper will be 22.5 and you can use the paper as a guide

      1. Take it all back, and get yourself a Spyderco Sharpmaker 204. It's the best home sharpener that money can buy, and it practically eliminates any margin of error. If you have a good forged knife, like the Wusthof Classic, you owe it to the steel to give it a good edge, and that's just not going to happen with just a cheap pair of guides. It's one of the best investments that you can make as far as your expensive knives go.

        My Blog:

        1 Reply
        1. re: sirregular

          I agree with you about the Spyderco Sharpmaker. This thing is great!

        2. There are probably as many opinions about maintaining knives as there are people but I'll try to post this in such a way as to not be overly controversial.

          The steel from which cutlery is WAY WAY harder than what most people cut in their kitchen most of the time. It ought not wear away significantly over time. MOST of the time that the edge of a kitchen get "dulled" it is from some sort of "unintended" contact with something that can't easily be cut (bone, dish, cutting surface). Often this contact result in a small portion of the edge being deformed in a minor way.

          The prompt, proper use of a "butcher steel" can often "realign" the edge with no further troubles.While I understand that the alloys traditionally used for Japanese knives are harder than those used for German knives I still find that using a steel seems to effectively realign the edge when it gets out of whack. I know there is some kind of "cult of swordmakers" mindset among many Japanese knife users that compels them to use the traditional methods, but as I do not spend all day preparing Japanese meals I find other methods more in line with my life.

          For that reason I have my F. Dick Dickoron at hand whenever I am using any of my knives.

          If something very bad happens to my knife and the butcher steel will not sufficiently restore a working edge I send my knives to a professional who will examine my knives, re-edge them in a way that is better than the factory and sometimes even send me a note apologizing for how much metal they had to remove for undoing my mistake(s). The factories mostly use jigs and templates and do not do as much inspection as the professional service. Of course the assembly workers at the factories, even if they are highly skilled/experienced, simply must deliver far more knives than any service company.

          I do have the Lansky System , which includes a "jig" and guides to sharpen knives/tools -- it works quite well, but I generally don't use it on kitchen knives much lately.

          I have a knock-off of the Spyderco device, it too works well enough on smaller, cheaper knives that are not worth having professionally serviced. I also got one with a "guide" or jig and it worked well too, but I only need to use on it pocket knives that are also getting whacked up --

          I have some knives that are 20 years and may have been "sent out" almost ten times, and other knives that I've gone 5 or more years and NEVER had to do more than use the butcher steel.

          Additionally I do have a nice "Chef's Choice" unit that will do a noticeably less good than the professional service but is perfect for sharpening the big cheap "Chinese Cleavers" and other low end knives that tend to last about 2-3 years as well as the knives that I pick up at the restaurant supply place and often use as steak knives. Every time this device is used some metal is worn away. I find that it removes far less metal than any other "in home" method and helps me get a long life from cheap knives. So much so that the handles usually give out before anything else.

          I have a few whetstones that are handy enough for tools, but I simply do not think that the practice required to get a consistent result would ever come to a home cook. They are now used exclusively for camping and lawn & garden stuff. I have no idea how/why you'd want to use a whetstone with so many better options...

          Please also see my post:

          1. Set the whetstone on a table. Take the knife and rest the blade, gently, cutting edge
            down, on the stone (as if you were about to cut down into it). That's a 90 degree angle.
            Tilt the blade halfway down. That's 45 degrees. Finally, once more tilt the blade half the
            remaining distance down. 22.5 degrees. While it's hard to estimate a given angle, it's
            easy to estimate these bisections.

            If your blade's already sharpened at that angle, pay careful attention to what the
            sharpening stone is doing to the bevel as you sharpen. Is it taking off more material
            toward the edge, then you're holding the knife at too steep an angle. More towards the
            body of the blade? Then your angle's too low.

            Sharpening can be a very pleasurable activity. Relax. Remember that there's pretty
            much no damage you can do that you won't be able to undo later when your skill
            develops. Give yourself a lot of time. Sometimes I'll spend up to an hour on a single
            chisel getting it tuned up just right. Knives I'm a little less obsessive about but 20
            minutes at least. Even under heavy home use you're only going to need to do this
            once a year or so.

            It helps to have a nice big magnifying glass too so you can get a clear look at
            where you're going; a lot of the interesting activity at the edge is very tiny. I bought
            a cheap pair of the highest-magnification drugstore reading glasses to use for
            sharpening and it improved my work tremendously.